On the surface, comics and films have more in common than books and films. Both are image-led, both have fairly simple plot structures, and the dialogue is already there in neat little bubbles. So all a film-maker has to do is find the right comic and transfer it straight to the silver screen. That's the theory.
So was Crying Freeman the right comic to film? In paper form, it's a stylish but rambling affair, with gaping plot holes - pretty much like any Japanese Manga comic. But slap the same story on film and you quickly reveal the nonsense. The scene in which Freeman turns up to kill Emu but ends up sleeping with her is an interestingly lewd interlude in the comic; however, the movie audience I saw it with hooted - at a moment that was intended to be pivotal and tender.
And that's Crying Freeman's crippling problem. From the opening scene, in which Emu witnesses the murders, to the final bloody showdown in a Japanese forest, it faithfully follows the original story of honour, duty and betrayal - a story so alien to Westerners that John Woo's barking-mad portrayal of similar themes starts to look quite sensible. Add to that several generic action scenes - (all of them devoid of excitement) - and you have a film that completely fails to engage its audience. You just sit back and watch the frames flick by, not really caring what happens or why.
Which is a shame, because a cast of young, good-looking unknowns put in strong performances as the principal goodies and baddies, ably assisted by a smattering of established talent (Rae Dawn Chong, Mako, Tcheky Karyo). And although they're still uninvolving, a couple of the scenes are pretty stylish, particularly the restaurant assassination and the big swordfight finale.
But this is the story of a master potter turned reluctant killer/blubberer: it's hard to suspend your disbelief long enough to swallow something like that.
Not a great idea for a film, and not a great film. Some imaginative action sequences, though.